Well, the visit went great .... once we actually left the SWI! While there, I was following Chenchen around like a puppy wondering if despite the great strides we'd made she'd be willing to come home with me.
But, I'm getting ahead of myself.
The morning started regularly enough, and I dressed Chenchen in a cute little dress with bloomers over her pullup (because it was about 85 degrees!) and after breakfast, we all headed to the lobby where Michael handed us off to Eva, who was awesome. She loaded us all into a large van, and off we went.
Here are some photos of us on the bus:
Don and Catherine:
Scott, Shanna & Zongming:
Carla and Chuanling:
The day was hazy, so going we didn't get to see a lot of the countryside, but we pretty much had about 1 hour and 15 minutes on a really nice freeway. Then we hit Chuzhou and the construction ... and goodbye nice roads!
On the ride, Chenchen was pretty good. She sat in her seat and ate some veggie puff, hollered and about the bloodfeud with Chuanling, but overall was great.
We got to Chuzhou, and were supposed to turn left. But most of the roads were under construction, and the road we needed was closed off. We'd been told the roads were "treacherous" and at this point, I guess they were, as we had to go down an alley, barely squeeze past some market stalls, and then ... voila! ... there we were.
Chenchen's finding place was at the gate to the orphanage, so it was special seeing where she'd been found as just a tiny baby, and so hard to imagine what her birth mother and family must have been thinking.
We parked and got out of the van and were immediately met by about four of the nannies and "grandmas" who were SO excited to see the babies, and all of them were thrilled to see them, too, including Chenchen who went to her favorite grandma in a heartbeat.
Here's a picture of this special woman who clearly adored Chenchen, and Chenchen loves her, too:
On the one hand, it was wonderful to see how loved the kids were ... on the other it was so hard to experience because the kids (all in our group as far as I can tell) clung to their nannies for dear life. The nannies told them we were good mommies and daddies and still they clung (I did get chastised for the short sleeves, and in truth it was chilly in the building. I think it's cinderblock and very well insulated!)
They took Chenchen to a bunch of different rooms and she met several of her caretakers, including the woman in the kitchen who gave them treats. We saw the room where they read and do crafts and the room where they sleep ... and we saw the crib where Isabella Chenchen slept.
Here's the reading/play room:
And here's Chenchen's crib (on the left at the bottom of the screen, with Catherine peeking into it):
It makes me sad to think that soon it will be filled with another baby ... that it can't just stay empty as the babies find homes.
The entire room hascribs in rectangular groups of 4. I'm pretty sure Chuanling's was caddycorner to hers (and I just noticed that Chuanling is standing next to that crib, so I must be right), which goes a long way to explaining why they seem to know each other so well (though I still don't get the hitting coupled with the sweet exchanges of toys and food).
The nannies kept the kids for a while, and we all followed like puppies. Honestly, it is a wonderful thing how attached these kids were to the nannies, as those of you reading from the adoption community already know. For those of you who don't, in a nutshell, "attachment" is obviously very important for a kid/parent, but when children have been raised in orphanage settings, there's the possibility of "attachment disorders," which can range from mild to severe. The fact that a child has in fact attached to a grown-up caregiver is an indication that the child is able to form a healthy attachment with the new parents. So while it's hard for us new moms and dads to see our kiddoes cling so tightly to their nannies, in the end it is a very, very good thing, and I can't even express how grateful I am to these wonderful women and to Director Dou for the care and love these children received.
After a while, the grandma that Chenchen was closest too passed her back to me, and there was some (heartbreaking!) crying.
Chenchen seemed to struggle the most with being handed back to a parent, and I think that's probably because she was the oldest in our group. Miraculously, the crying stopped by the time we'd exited the building, and by the time we'd entered the administration building for a quick overview of the SWI from Director Dou, she was not only happy and giggly again, but she seemed even more so. I think she really did get closure, both from having the chance to say goodbye to the nannies, and from seeing the Director treating us all as the parents.
The Director gave us an overview of the SWI and maps of the city and literature about Chuzhou SWI.
Here we are in the room with the Director:
He also gave us each a booklet with descriptions and pictures of our kids going back to when they were babies! That is such a treasure and I can't wait to have it translated! He explained how happy he was that we were adopting the kids, said he'd come to the states to visit many of the children adopted years ago, and that he knew a little bit about all of us (he even said he knew about me and my books and that he was familiar with them! Too bad I haven't yet been translated into Chinese!)
While he talked, the kids were kids, and then we all boarded the bus again to join the Director at a local restaurant for lunch. On the ride there, Chenchen was even more giggly and silly, supporting my thinking that the closure was good for her.
The restaurant was in a local hotel, and there were two large round tables with lazy Susans.
As we all tried to get settled, the waitresses led Catherine away. There I am, trying to keep track of Chenchen, Don is trying to put all my stuff (diaper backpack) down someplace out of the way, and my oldest child is disappearing down the hotel stairs! I wasn't actually worried ... let's just say I was concerned. And the marvelous Eva stepped in, promising to retrieve Catherine (who it turns out was having another Diva moment! Everyone down in the lobby wanted to see her!)
Here's the fabulous Eva who became both guide and babysitter – she was a dream at keeping Catherine occupied!
I took Chenchen to the potty and came back to find that the seats had been rearranged. Don was on one side of the director and Scott on the other. Thus began the drinking ... though we didn't know it at the time!
Seriously, the director held Chenchen and toasted all of us, and told Catherine how pretty she was, and was just generally a delightful host. Here he is holding Chenchen:
Then the food started rolling in. Wow! The first few items were a bit dicey-looking, but we tried them and were pleasantly surprised. And after that, the food just got better and better. It was an outstanding meal! I was eating with Chenchen in my lap, and the director at one point got up to mix egg custard with rice for her and Zongming (she was only picking at her food, after having eaten a ton of crackers during the SWI visit) and she totally chowed down. It's a really yummy dish, actually, and I have no clue how to make it. "Steamed egg" I think it's called, but it looks like a custard.
Catherine discovered some yummy shrimp (that she meticulously peeled while the rest of us ate them whole) and I discovered a soup that was too die for. The only thing that didn't work well for me was the fish ... I got a bone stuck in my throat that drove me nuts for about an hour. That didn't stop me from eating more of the yummy food, though!
About this time, they opened the second bottle of the local wine from the Director's home town. I tasted it and it was STRONG!
By the end of the meal, Don, Scott and the Director had polished off 3 bottles! At the end, Ricky joined them.
There's a video of the final toast below, but here's a still picture:
After that, we all loaded up on the bus again and went to see the babies' finding spots.
First we went to the People's Square, a beautiful gathering area that in my opinion was prettier than Tian-An-Men. Catherine ran Eva ragged there!
After that, we went to the other kids' finding spots. We didn't go to Chenchen's, because she was left at the SWI gates. Here's a picture, taken for us by the SWI staff on one of the cameras we sent:
Here are some Chuzhou scenes as we were driving back:
I didn't get any of the countryside coming back, but the fog had lifted, and it really was a pretty drive. All the way, Chenchen was a total pill. Giggly and wild and goofy. She refused to sit in her seat (or leave Chuanling) alone, but for the most part she was a joy. Again, in our experience, I recommend the SWI trip. Closure, closure, closure.
The rest of the evening was spent packing and playing, as this was our last night in Hefei. In the morning, we were off to Guangzhou for the American-side of our adoption journey!
The playing went great! CC and C played together more than before (say it with me: "closure!") and they made this lovely sculpture:
I rolled the green tube, and CC decorated it! Catherine put the whole thing together.
Mostly, Chenchen was interested in creating a sculpture from the empty playdoh containers. Ta da:
Here's part of the explosion of stuff that had to be packed:
The only hard part of the day came at the end, frankly. It had been a long, emotional, trying day, filled with long bus rides!
We didn't want room service though, or one of the hotel restaurants. Our hotel wasn't located near much, though, although there was one restaurant within walking distance. So we did that ... walked, I mean, with me carrying Chenchen and D pushing the stroller.
They spoke NO English. Not even the teeny tiny bit that the Beijing local restaurant staff spoke. But we tried! And the food was tasty, though not quite as good as Beijing (or lunch). I'm sure it would have been AWESOME had we known what to order!
We got a fish ... but it had a LOT of bones and wasn't worth the work (and I wasn't risking another bone!). The chicken came in a pot on top, and was chunks on bone as well. It was tasty, but a lot of work. Chenchen, though, went at it like gangbusters. Catherine, tired & hungry and only 5 years old, complained about the food (understandably) and we tried to order rice for her. We finally managed to communicate that, but before it came, she started crying, and that made Chenchen cry, and it was just a whole big crying thing.
Chenchen is clearly very sensitive, and of course I was convinced that all the good moments of the day had evaporated in a puff. (Hint: They hadn't).
Catherine (who had remarkably few meltdowns on the trip all things considered) calmed down pretty quickly and then discovered that not only did she like the rice, she liked the soup. And so did Chenchen. And so did Don and I.
And so life (and dinner) was good.
We paid for our meal (about $8 US) and headed back to the hotel, with Chenchen humming (she hums and/or talks) constantly!
Next up in Backtrack Blogging: Chenchen's first plane ride!